WHO renames SARS-CoV-2 variants as Alpha, Beta, Gamma ,Delta…

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Illustration courtesy: Aïda Amer/Axios

By SAT News Desk

MELBOURNE, 1 June 2021: The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced “simple, easy-to-say labels for different SARS-CoV-2 variants”. The decision is aimed at stopping the names of countries from where the variant originates being associated when the variant is pronounced. Instead, key variants of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, have been assigned letters of the Greek alphabet, Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta.

It remains to be seen whether this move will curtail the use of country names with the varients where it allegedly originated. Interestingly, news reports from Vietnam have indicated the variant surging there is a mix of variants from the UK and India. No country-free name has been assigned to it.

Media outlets have been using the names of the UK, India, Brazil, South Africa, etc. along with the word ‘variant’ and the Indian government had objected to its country name being used with the variant which reportedly originated in India. In 2019 the COVID-19 pandemic first reportedly emerged in Wuhan, China, it was widely described as the China virus. The move to use the Greek alphabet for different SARS-CoV-2 varients aims not to use country of origin names with it.

So, Alpha is the B.1.1.7 (UK), Beta is the B.1.351 (South Africa), Gamma is the P.1 (Brazil), and Delta is the B.1.617.2 (India). Other variants named: Epsilon B.1.427/B.1.429 (USA), Zeta P.2 (Brazil), Eta B.1.525 (Multiple countries), Theta P.3 (Philippines), Iota B.1.526 (USA) & Iota B.1.526 (India).

WHO, in collaboration with partners, expert networks, national authorities, institutions, and researchers has been monitoring and assessing the evolution of SARS-CoV-2 since January 2020. During late 2020, the emergence of variants that posed an increased risk to global public health prompted the characterization of specific Variants of Interest (VOIs) and Variants of Concern (VOCs), in order to prioritize global monitoring and research, and ultimately to inform the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The established nomenclature systems for naming and tracking SARS-CoV-2 genetic lineages by GISAID, Nextstrain, and Pango are currently and will remain in use by scientists and in scientific research. To assist with public discussions of variants, WHO convened a group of scientists from the WHO Virus Evolution Working Group, the WHO COVID-19 reference laboratory network, representatives from GISAID, Nextstrain, Pango, and additional experts in virological, microbial nomenclature and communication from several countries and agencies to consider easy-to-pronounce and non-stigmatizing labels for VOI and VOC. At the present time, this expert group convened by WHO has recommended using labeled using letters of the Greek Alphabet, i.e., Alpha, Beta, Gamma, which will be easier and more practical to discussed by non-scientific audiences, says a WHO media release.

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